Akayev Wins Reelection Amid Fraud Claims

Incumbent leader Askar Akayev appears to have handily defeated five rivals in gaining another five-year term as Kyrgyzstan's president. However, opposition leaders and international organizations have voiced complaints about election irregularities.

Akayev's landslide has been marred by allegations that the government rigged the vote. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) criticized numerous irregularities. "The 2000 Kyrgyz presidential election failed to comply with OSCE commitments for democratic elections," said a statement issued by the OSCE on October 30. "Democratic developments in the Kyrgyz Republic remain comparatively viable, though increasingly challenged."

Meanwhile, some leading opposition figures have suggested that the voting was marked by fraud. At an October 30 news conference, opposition leader Felix Kulov, who had served as the campaign manager for Omurbek Tekebaev, suggested that the results greatly exaggerated Akayev's popularity with voters.

In one of the most publicized instances of alleged ballot-rigging, Tekebaev representatives found 701 ballots in a ballot box at the polling station No. 1145 in Bishkek before the polls opened on October 29. Akayev was the choice on all but one of the ballots in question. The one remaining ballot went to Tursunbek Akunov.

The CEC responded by asking Ministry for National Security to investigate the case, and by firing the chairman of the constituency. In addition, CEC Chairman Sulaiman Imanbaev told the RFE/RL correspondent in Bishkek: "We think it looks like a specially organized provocation. Given that there were only 1,750 registered voters in this constituency, and that if somebody would put 700 additional ballots, it would look like a deliberately organized action."

In all, the CEC received 42 complaints from presidential candidates. One candidate, Melis Eshimkanov, said his campaign aides were improperly detained by authorities. Eshimkanov added that election officials refused to allow his observers to witness polling at 14 voting stations, and other observers were allowed to attend at the 26 other stations only after prolonged disputes. Meanwhile, Tekebaev also complained that his campaign aides were unlawfully detained. In one case, a Tekebaev supporter was reportedly severely beaten on October 26, and remained hospitalized.

The approximately 270 international observers for the presidential vote included representatives of OSCE /ODIHR (Office for Democratic Institutes and Human Rights), the US-based National Democratic Institute, the European Institute for Mass Media, the International Foundation for Elections Systems (IFES), and the CIS Inter-parliamentary Assembly of CIS. The CIS Inter-parliamentary observers noted the high participation of voters, but did not report evidence of irregularities. "The only shortcoming was the lack of space for voters in constituency premises during rush hours from 10-12 am." said Igor Shestakov, one CIS observer.

Regardless of the merits of the allegations of government intimidation and vote-rigging, some observers say Akayev enjoyed the support of the majority of the Kyrgyz electorate. "People are simply not ready for changes, and are afraid of uncertainty. And [the October 29] vote shows Akayev is still a symbol of stability," said Khairukhon Akhmedova, a political analyst based in Osh.

During Akayev's tenure Kyrgyzstan has been successful in maintaining interethnic harmony after serious riots in the Osh region in 1990 caused extensive property damage and left dozens of Kyrgyz and Uzbeks dead. Akayev's campaign slogan "Kyrgyzstan is our common home," as well as the designation of Russian as an official language, helped win Akayev significant support among non-Kyrgyz. In recent years, Akayev has seen his popularity grow in southern regions, where there is a significant ethnic Uzbek population.

Other observers said that Akayev's reelection chances received a boost from favorable media coverage. For example, some journalists have alleged that TV stations, including "Pyramid" and "Kyrgyz Teleradio," refused to run campaign advertisements for opposition candidates.

"Apart from the air time granted to presidential candidates by law, Akayev enjoyed special media coverage that was granted by his current presidential status. He was everywhere in the news headlines: on TV, newspapers, radio. And opposition candidates' campaigns were limited to only campaign ads," one Osh-based media expert said.

Alisher Khamidov is the director of the Osh Media Resource Center in Osh, Kyrgyzstan.

Akayev Wins Reelection Amid Fraud Claims

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